Was Hollywood built on piracy? That’s what some seem to suggest. Lawrence Lessig’s version of this story from his 2004 book Free Culture is archetypical:
The Hollywood film industry was built by fleeing pirates. Creators and directors migrated from the East Coast to California in the early 20th century in part to escape controls that film patents granted the inventor Thomas Edison. These controls were exercised through the Motion Pictures Patents Company, a monopoly “trust” based on Edison’s creative property and formed to vigorously protect his patent rights.
California was remote enough from Edison’s reach that filmmakers like Fox and Paramount could move there and, without fear of the law, pirate his inventions. Hollywood grew quickly, and enforcement of federal law eventually spread west. But because patents granted their holders a truly “limited” monopoly of just 17 years (at that time), the patents had expired by the time enough federal marshals appeared. A new industry had been founded, in part from the piracy of Edison’s creative property.
This little bit of historical revisionism has popped up regularly since then.
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The early years [of the motion picture industry] saw some patent skirmishes between rival companies as film began to grow in popularity. In 1908, Edison helped form the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) with other patent holders. Together, they held a virtual monopoly on the movie industry; their patents covered projectors, cameras, and film stock. Their control went beyond patents, however. Using tie-in agreements and licensing, and forming the General Film Corporation to monopolize film distribution, they locked out competition at every step, from making movies to exhibiting them.
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The independents weren’t infringing on any patents themselves, they were violating the license and tie-in agreements that came with the MPPC’s equipment. The MPPC did enjoy some early success with its litigation efforts, convincing several courts that illegal restraint of trade was not a defense to patent infringement.
But the MPPC didn’t rely solely on the law — Edison enforced the Trust’s domination with violence. Hired thugs would smash cameras and raid the independents’ places of business.
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The organization’s anti-competitive tactics caught the attention of the US government, which took action against them. In 1916, the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania entered a decree against the Motion Picture Patents Co. The judge found that the MPPC, the General Film Company, and the individual companies involved had “attempted to monopolize and have monopolized and have combined and conspired … to monopolize a part of the trade or commerce … consisting of the trade in films, cameras, and projecting machines” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. It declared all the contracts, patent licenses, and patent assignments used by the MPPC illegal.
The trust also began suffering setbacks in the courts, and in 1917, the US Supreme Court unequiovically struck down one of the license agreements that the MPPC had used to extend its monopoly.
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[T]he claim that the independent studios ran to Hollywood to get away from Edison and his legal threats is greatly overstated. Southern California offered many advantages over the established filmmaking centers of New York and Chicago that provide stronger reasons for the migration.
Geography, for one. California offered a wide variety of scenery that was useful as substitutes for all sorts of locations.
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Weather played a huge role too — LA offers 70 degree year-round weather as opposed to winters in New York or, worse, Chicago. Peter Ediden of the New York Times notes, “This wasn’t merely a matter of comfort; even the brightest electric lights of the time were too dim to expose film properly, so a run of cloudy days could halt production at, say, the Edison studios in East Orange, N.J.”
In fact, nearly everything about the area was an improvement. Land was cheaper and more available and the costs of labor were lower.
Link to the rest at Copyhype